Overview of Buddhist Meditation Part 2 by Bonni Ross

We do this work to expand awareness, deepen wisdom and increase compassion for the benefit of all beings.

First of all, I’d like to refresh your memory of the Jungian mandala of the four functions of the human being which we spoke about last week. Do you recall what they are? Sensing, evaluative, intellectual and intuitive.

Now, the fact that you have a physical body is rather obvious to you! And most adults have some sort of understanding that this physical body has an anatomical structure similar to other adult human bodies, but with built-in strengths and weaknesses that are quite individual, conditioned by genetics, accident and opportunity (or lack of opportunity) for development.

What is less obvious is that in addition to this material body, living beings also have a fine material body, sometimes called an energy field, or auric field. This energy body, which pervades the physical body, also extends outside the physical body about 18 to 24 inches. This measurement is for an ordinary person; the energy body of a fully awakened being would be vast in comparison, encompassing an entire city, for example. This energy body has been photographed, somewhat crudely, with Kirlian photography, and can be perceived by most people when they are in an exceptionally calm state, or have had some training in what to look for.

Like the physical body, the fine material body of a human being has an anatomical structure that is basic, and individual distortions, or blocks, that are a product of the many lifetimes of experiences of that streaming of consciousness. The anatomy of the fine material body corresponds more or less to the four functions, beginning with the most dense, or slow moving energy, the sensing body, or physical form; and then decreasing in density through the layering of emotional; mental; and intuitive, or spiritual, bodies.

Running throughout the energy body are pathways or channels through which energy moves. These pathways conjoin at nexus points, or energy centres, the principal ones of which are located at the crown of the head, throat, centre of the torso, navel, and at the base of the spine. Each energy centre is associated with one of the endocrine glands in the physical structure, and activation of the energy centres influences the body through the neuro-endocrine system, and vice versa.

This entire anatomical structure, involving all four functions, is the “local” environment or territory of meditation practice. However, it is important to remember that one’s “individual” reality is always being influenced by the larger environment — the people around you, the political and economic and social conditions of the country you live in, the subtle effects of climate and weather, the movement of planets and the whole, vast, interconnected reality that is Universe itself. We are never separate from all these (and many, many more) influences — some of them carried from the distant past — the vast majority of which we are entirely unconscious of.

Now come back to earth again! When one reads the various meditation texts of all ages, the first discussion in them invariably concerns itself with the cultivation of a virtuous, or ethical life. The reason for this is very simple: certain types of behaviour are proven to cause agitation in consciousness. In order for meditative concentration to stabilize and deepen successfully, the consciousness must become very calm. Agitation created by living in a fashion that causes harm to oneself and/or other beings works against the development of these calm states.

A life based on the principle of non-harming would include refraining from killing, stealing, lying, sensual indulgences of various kinds and using any substances that cause the mind’s perception, analytic and reaction functions to be clouded or distorted. Most religions rely on an array of formal prohibitions to ensure correct behaviour. In Buddhadharma there are various levels of training precepts — a basic three for all who formally commit themselves to working within this framework, five for most lay people, eight for those with the type of ordination which I hold, ten for newly-ordained, celibate, nuns and monks and up to several hundred for those who become fully ordained. These precepts are presented as a study, rather than a list of “thou shalt nots” in order to encourage practitioners to keep trying without guilt, and to deepen their appreciation of the subtleties of action, speech and thought that the training principles address.

To live a wholesome life presupposes an understanding that there is a law of cause and effect — that one’s present experience, pleasant or unpleasant, is a direct result of one’s past wholesome or unwholesome motivation and behaviour. Therefore, it is important that one’s present actions, words and thoughts are thought of as seeds which will (or will not) produce future experience supportive of spiritual development.

For those who would like to explore these, and other fundamental ideas of Buddhadharma, I recommend reading a book entitled “WHAT THE BUDDHA TAUGHT” by Walpole Rahula. Then, if you have questions about the philosophical milieu in which these practices were taught, you can bring them to class.

Last week I mentioned that two main divisions exist. Does anyone recall what they were? Tranquillity, or calming, meditations and insight, or direct experience. We’ll begin by considering the territory of tranquillity practices, with the understanding that the development of calm is essential in order for insight to arise.

Tranquillity meditations involve the development and deepening of states of concentration. Now this word immediately causes many Westerners to show signs of tension — something about how we are conditioned in school, perhaps, that equates concentration with tight muscles, furrowed brows and the appearance of great effort! Meditative concentration has a different quality — more of a relaxing into, absorbing into, the object of concentration, rather like a pussycat settling into a patch of sun for a long, intense, nap. We all have experienced this type of concentration when we are interested in something — a film or book, perhaps, that is so involving we forget who and where we are, becoming completely engrossed in the story. This ability to absorb into objects is trained, through meditation practice, to be used at will (rather than only spontaneously) and with objects conducive to the purification and development of consciousness, rather than those which provide, at best, escapist fantasy.

This quality of concentration begins with a certain application of effort, which strengthens and stabilizes the mind, and develops in steadiness and intensity to the point where the meditator is aware of other sensory inputs, but is not distracted from concentration by them. Finally the experience becomes unitive or holistic — no “meditator”, no “meditation object” — simply a flow of pure conscious experience in which subject and object have merged with Universe.

Next week we’ll speak about the states of absorption further, and begin our exploration of the practices themselves.

May the positive energy of this exploration be shared for the elimination of suffering throughout the universe and the speedy liberation of all beings!

To Overview (3)

This teaching is from http://www.retreathouse.bc.ca